Fandi Ahmad and son Irfan light SEA Games cauldron: Tracking the career of Singapore's most famous footballer

Former national footballer Fandi Ahmad (right) lighting the SEA Games cauldron with his eldest son Irfan Fandi. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Former national footballer Fandi Ahmad (right) lighting the SEA Games cauldron with his eldest son Irfan Fandi. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - The answer to the biggest secret in town was finally revealed on Friday evening when Singapore's football legend Fandi Ahmad and his eldest son, national Under-23 striker Irfan, lit the cauldron for the 28th SEA Games at the Sports Hub.

Since his national team debut in 1979, Fandi has never relinquished his position as the country's most successful and celebrated footballer. His enduring popularity can be attributed to his work ethic, talent, charisma and clean living.

Wang Meng Meng takes a look at the career of the former national captain and current coach of the LionsXII.

1. A star is born

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It all began in 1978 when Fandi Ahmad led Singapore A to the Lion City Cup. Fans were thrilled to see the skinny teenager skippering the country to the trophy and scoring eight goals in the process.

A year later, he made his full international debut with the Lions in a SEA Games match against Indonesia, making him the country's youngest-ever debutant then at 17 years, three months and 23 days. That record stood until 2007, when Hariss Harun earned his first cap against North Korea aged 16 years, seven months and five days.

In 1980, the young Fandi became a national hero when he scored the winning goal in the 2-1 Malaysia Cup final victory over Selangor.

2. Making a name for himself overseas

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Firmly established as a star striker in Singapore, Fandi ventured abroad and was offered a three-year contract by Dutch giants Ajax in 1982. However, the homesick striker turned it down.

But he was back in the Netherlands a year later, joining Groningen. There, he hit a career high point when he scored in a 2-1 Uefa Cup win (now Europa League) over Italy's Inter Milan.

3. Returning to his roots

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After successful spells in Malaysia with Kuala Lumpur and Pahang, Fandi returned and in 1994, he captained Singapore to the M-League and Malaysia Cup double.

As a coach, Fandi won two S-League titles with Singapore Armed Forces FC (2000, 2002) and was named the league's Coach of the Year in 2000.

In 2014, he returned home to take charge of the LionsXII after coaching overseas in Indonesia and Malaysia and last month, he guided the team to Malaysian FA Cup glory, beating Kelantan 3-1 in front of 87,000 fans at Bukit Jalil Stadium.

4. The Fandi brood

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One of Singapore's most eligible bachelors finally tied the knot with South Africa-born model Wendy Jacobs in 1996 at the age of 34. The couple went on to have five sporty children. They are:

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Irfan: The 17-year-old, who lit the cauldron with Fandi, is a striker with the national Under-23 football team competing at this SEA Games. Standing at 1.87m, the teenager wears the No. 17 jersey like his famous father and has impressed with his aerial power, eye for goal and willingness to work hard for the team.

Ikhsan: Just like Irfan, 16-year-old Ikhsan is a forward but he plays differently, relying on his bag of tricks and speed to get past markers. Fandi's second son is currently training with Chilean top division club Universidad Catolica.

Iman: A former sprinter with the Singapore Sports School and once the fastest girl over 100m in primary school competition, the 15-year-old Iman is now making a name for herself as a budding model and fashionista.

Ilhan: Another striker to roll off Fandi's production line, Ilhan, named after Turkey's ex-World Cup star Ilhan Mansiz, has already showed plenty of promise. Two years ago, when he was 10, the skinny forward scored four goals to help Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) beat Henry Park Primary 4-3 to win the National Primary Schools Football Championship.

Iryan: Born on National Day in 2006, the cherubic Iryan is the youngest in Team Fandi. Following in the family tradition, he has picked up football and is now a budding player at ACS (Junior).

5. His legend lives on

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Off the field, Singapore's favourite footballing son continues to be adored by the public, who never forgot his contributions to the country.

In 2013, Fandi was honoured by Madame Tussauds with a waxwork in his likeness, joining other Singaporean icons like singer Stefanie Sun and sitcom character Phua Chu Kang. However, wife Wendy cheekily commented that the figure's buttocks were not as large as her husband's.

National sports agency Sport Singapore has also honoured Fandi ahead of this SEA Games by producing a video chronicling his childhood. The 12-minute YouTube clip, entitled Ordinary, sees the re-enactment of how the young Fandi is inspired by his late father, former Singapore goalkeeper Ahmad Wartam, to dedicate himself to football.

meng@sph.com.sg

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